According to the United Nations, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced 850,000,000 students worldwide out of school. Here in the United States, where the all-holy profit motive supersedes feeding children, school closures have deprived perhaps 30 million children from low-income families, perhaps more, of their primary source of nutrition.
See, in the U.S., low-income people are expected to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” One hears and reads this self-satisfied idiom all the time. It is especially popular in conservative media circles, where it is peddled by right-wing “thinkers” on the right-wing dole who wouldn’t know a bootstrap from a hard day’s work if it slapped them.
In point of historical fact, it is physically impossible to pull oneself up by way of a bootstrap, just as it is impossible to escape the cycle of poverty and deprivation in a nation devoted to protecting its wealthiest citizens at the expense of everyone else.
The propaganda on this point has become so deeply ingrained that, before COVID-19, the existence of hungry children in the U.S. was blamed on the children themselves, and on the families struggling to support them. When confronted with this shameful reality prior to COVID-19, Atlas shrugged. I’m eating, not my problem.
As of this writing, schools are closed in 39 states. In New York City, the decision to close the public schools was a tortured one even in the face of a ravening pandemic, because administrators knew that shuttering the schools meant depriving hundreds of thousands of children of their most reliable meals of the day. This crisis has been repeated in cities and states across the country as the coronavirus chews through our gossamer, unprofitable, mostly theoretical social safety net.
A week ago, the Trump administration made it clear that rerouting federal revenue away from programs to help hungry kids eat remains a high priority for his government. Only a federal judge’s intervention on Monday kept 700,000 people from being deprived of food stamps in the midst of what may come to be remembered as the greatest challenge this nation has ever faced.
This is what plunder looks like, once plunder has had its way. Donald Trump did not do this all by himself; he is merely the vivid avatar of a long phenomenon. For that matter, the effects of the core ethos of U.S. capitalism — “peel the land” — are hardly relegated to hungry children deprived of school lunches. Plunder has peeled our health care, our labor, our very lives, and the extent of the damage done by this generational campaign has been laid bare by something you can only see through a microscope.
“From coast to coast, local and state officials complain that shortages of everyday supplies are disrupting efforts to sharply ramp up testing,” reports The Washington Post, “which is key to identifying the spread of disease. The scarcity is hampering both the ability of health-care workers in hospitals to draw samples to send to laboratories and the ability of those laboratories to confirm infection.”
Why? Because there was no money to be made in being prepared, in making test kits we might not need, in having unprofitable community hospitals remain open merely because they serviced low-income neighborhoods. COVID-19 is why we needed to be prepared, needed to protect everyone behind a stout medical infrastructure free from the profit motive, but all of that went by the boards because “health care” is a commodity to be traded like petroleum, and for pennies on the dollar.
At this moment, at the highest levels of government, arguments are being put forth that pharmaceutical corporations and insurance companies should still be able to financially ruin people if they contract a disease that may come to afflict half the country, if not more.
There is simply too much money to be made to do the right thing.
That, right there, is plunder.
Late-stage capitalism in extremis.
Millions may die, so wring out whatever coppers are there to be snatched. Sharks in a feeding frenzy understand this ethos full well when bits and chunks of flesh are floating by, waiting to be gobbled. You can see it in the faces of Jim Inhofe, Richard Burr, Ron Johnson and Kelly Loeffler, four Republican senators who dumped millions of dollars in stock holdings after receiving confidential briefings on COVID-19 weeks ago, before the market crash.
Of course, there is the show. Donald Trump is now a “wartime president” by his own bedraggled reckoning, because violence and the threat of same are the last recourse of the naked tyrant. Trump’s suddenly realized war footing against COVID-19 has not put a damper on his trade war, however, even though it is an additional anchor on a shattered economy.
The U.S. government, devoted in calm times to all things capitalist, has suddenly discovered a deep vein of socialism within itself now that the virus has exposed the vulnerable underbelly of the system. All the major industries — the banks, the airlines, the banks again — have their hands out, expectant in the way of spoiled children who are accustomed to being first in line.
Maybe you’ll get a check for $1,000, maybe more. How that will bridge the gap during a crisis that is expected to last 18 months or more is as enormous a question as asking how a society that feeds its children through underfunded schools and ties health care to a certain kind of employment will endure the shocks to come. Because they are coming. The long siege of COVID-19 has only just begun.
A little over one year ago, I wrote this: “We stand today upon the fulcrum of history, a crossroads at midnight with a blood moon rising. Down one road lies fire, flood, famine, failure and the final triumph of greed. What awaits down the other road is unknown, terra incognita, a mystery to be solved one gentle step at a time…. The road we have been on is littered with bones and sorrow. The road we must take is strange, and new, and dangerous, and difficult. There are no promises, other than it will be — by dint of our collective will — better than the way that is failing before our eyes. This crossroads is freedom distilled, and the time to choose is now.”
Posit: The ultimate point of “social distancing” is to limit the number of coronavirus cases requiring a hospital bed, because there are millions of people who need, or will need, those hospital beds for reasons other than the coronavirus. Women giving birth, people injured in car accidents, heart attack victims, kids who fall out of trees … those people, in addition to the towering necessity of protecting our elders, are who we seek to protect.
We need hospitals, respirators, tests, and people trained to help the afflicted to offset the horrors to come.
I have a vision of this nation un-fucking itself and building those hospitals in a Manhattan Project-level effort, opening shuttered hospitals, turning out tests and respirators the way we once turned out bombers and tanks by the thousands.
Recession? Here’s a hammer.
Trump made a big show on Wednesday of ordering military hospital ships to anchor off the coasts of New York and California, but those ships will not be ready to take on patients for weeks. The capitalists have no pants, and as their nethers flap in futility, it is going to fall to us — we who must practice social distancing — to come together.
It can happen, it must happen, and it will happen only if we stand upon this fulcrum of history and understand that the pursuit of profit and growth for the sake of profit and growth alone is the ethos of the virus that has attacked us. We are better than that. We must be, if we wish to avoid getting mowed down like the spring grass newly growing upon this frightened and quieted world.